HOUSTON, June 30 – Chinese superstar center Yao Ming's broken left foot could be a "career-threatening" injury, the team doctor for the NBA's Houston Rockets told the Houston Chronicle on Monday.
Tom Clanton told the newspaper that the 7-foot-6 giant’s decision on what sort of treatment he wants to fix the break could see him miss the entire 2009-2010 NBA season or have the potential to risk his career.
"At this point, the injury has the potential for him missing this next season and could be career threatening," Clanton told the Chronicle.
"One of the things we are trying to get is a consensus opinion on that, to make certain there is no option we are overlooking that would provide an earlier return or would be an option for treatment that he would prefer rather than doing additional surgery."
Yao is planning to meet with several specialists to consider all possible alternatives regarding his fourth bone injury in as many years.
Clanton would not say what his advice would be but said Yao could try again to immobilize the foot to hope the fracture heals on its own.
"I dont think that is necessarily a longshot," Clanton said. "It takes a lot of time. It may be best to take more time. Sometimes that is the best option."
Several previous Yao bone injuries have been solved that way and doctors hopes this one would as well but last week it was learned that the injury has not healed and that Yao would be sidelined indefinitely.
But Clanton said the injury had grown worse instead of improving when examined under a CT scan last week.
Doctors will reexamine Yao to determine if there has been a reduced supply of blood in the area, which would hinder healing.
"The hairline fracture that is present in the previous X-rays shows evidence it has not healed and has extended across the bone," Clanton said.
Surgical options would include inserted a metal pin inside the foot, a bone graft or possibly rebuilding his arch, an option similar to one used on Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas of Lithuania.
"Its more that’s what were hoping to avoid but that’s certainly a realistic situation given his injury and the way the bone looked on the CT scan," Clanton said. "The fact he is having no symptoms gives us reason for optimism."
Yao suffered the injury in a 108-94 home playoff loss on May 8 against the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers after playing 77 regular-seaon games, the most he had competed in since the 2004-2005 campaing.
Foot and leg injuries hampered Yao in the three prior seasons. He missed 21 games in the 2005-2006 season with an infected left big toe that required surgery and then broke a bone in his left foot four games before the end of the season.
The following season, Yao broke his right leg and missed 32 games. In the 2007-2008 campaign, Yao suffered a left foot stress facture that required surgery and missed 26 games but recovered in time for the Beijing Olympics.
Yao had expected his latest injury to be well on the way to being healed when he was examined last week. Instead, the crack had expanded.
"The findings on the CT were shocking for him and for us," Clanton said. "At this stage he is having no symptoms or physical signs. He has no tenderness, no swelling, no redness. When he came back in, he was feeling like everything was perfect, and he would start rehabilitation and get ready to play.
"Sometimes the findings on an X-ray or CT dont necessarily mean that is exactly what you treat. You dont treat a CT scan. You treat a patient. We are looking for every reason to teat this on clinical findings, but dont want to put him at risk for a greater fracture.
"What we are looking at is a discrepancy in the clinical findings on him and what he tells us, and the findings on the diagnostic imaging studies that tell us what the bone looks like."
Yao had said when the injury happened that he did not think it as serious as some of his prior ones and the club had said he was expected to recover in two or three months.
The team had nothing to say regarding fears Yao might never play again.
"We are not going to comment until we have all the facts," said Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who said Yao’s status had no impact upon the Rockets’ decisions for last week’s draft.
Yao, the top selction in the 2002 NBA Draft, is set to make 16 million dollars next season and he has an option to retgurn in the 2010-20111 season for 17 million dollars.
Losing Yao could be crippling for the Rockets, who are already set to be without star guard Tracy McGrady for at least the first half of next season after left knee surgery.
Yao’s uncertain future could have a major impact on what the Rockets do in the free agent market, which opens next month.